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RELEASE DATE: June 24, 2013
CONTACT: AICR Communications Department
communications@aicr.org, 202-328-7744

Another Study Finds AICR Recommendations Cut Breast Cancer Risk

WASHINGTON, DC — Post-menopausal women who follow at least five Recommendations for Cancer Prevention from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) cut their risk of developing breast cancer by more than half, compared to those who meet none, suggests a new study that adds to previous research showing that women’s risk decreases when they follow AICR’s Recommendations

In the latest study, published early in the online edition of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the three recommendations that most helped women reduce their risk of breast cancer were eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains; being a healthy weight; and drinking no more than one alcoholic beverage a day.

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Theresa Hastert of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, “In our study, meeting just the recommendation related to alcohol was associated with a 37% reduction in breast cancer risk, while [some other recommendations] were not associated with reductions in risk on their own. Because [AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention] were developed to reduce incidence of all of the most common cancers worldwide, it makes sense that not all of them directly impact each individual cancer.”

But when it comes to postmenopausal breast cancer, Hastert and her colleagues say “The most important finding is that meeting the recommendations related to body fatness, plant foods, and alcohol was associated with a substantial reduction in risk.”

“This new study adds to the growing research showing that AICR’s Recommendations make a very real and measurable difference when it comes to reducing the risk of breast cancer,” said AICR’s Director of Research, Susan Higginbotham, RD, PhD.

Dr. Higginbotham noted that a much larger study released last year also found that women who followed AICR’s recommendations had a reduced risk of breast cancer, along with many other cancers, though that decrease was more modest. That study, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC), found that women who followed five or more recommendations had a 16 percent reduced risk of breast cancer compared to those who followed fewer than three. Notably, one-third of the women in that study were premenopausal. (Lifestyle plays a different role in premenopausal breast cancer than it does in postmenopausal breast cancer.)

New Study Documents Large Protective Effects

In the new study, researchers used data from approximately 31,000 participants of the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) study. The women were ages 50 to 76 at the start and had no history of breast cancer. When the study began, the women filled out questionnaires on their eating habits, weight, physical activity, medicines they take and other factors that may play a role in breast cancer risk.

The researchers focused on six of AICR’s ten Recommendations for Cancer Prevention:

  1. Stay as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
  2. Be physically active. (For this study, women met this recommendation if they were active at least 30 minutes per day at least five days a week.)
  3. Limit consumption of calorie-dense foods and avoid sugary drinks.
  4. Eat a plant-based diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. (For the study, women met this recommendation if they ate at least five servings of fruits and/or non-starchy vegetables and also at least one serving of whole grains and/or legumes per day.)
  5. Limit intake of red meat and avoid processed meat. (For the study, women met this recommendation if they ate less than 18 ounces of red or processed meat per week.)
  6. If you consume alcohol, limit yourself to one drink per day.

AICR’s other four Recommendations for Cancer Prevention were not included, as data were either unavailable (in the case of the Recommendations related to limiting salt, breastfeeding, and not relying on dietary supplements for protection) or were not applicable (in the case of the AICR Recommendation geared to cancer survivors).

After almost seven years, 899 of the women had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Overall, following any five of the recommendations was associated with a 60 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer, compared to women who did not adhere to any of the recommendations.

Meeting two to four of the recommendations was associated with cutting risk almost in half (44 to 48 percent reduced risk).

The Greatest Protection?

When the researchers focused on specific recommendations, they found the ones most linked to reduced risk were those related to carrying less body fat, eating plant foods, and avoiding alcohol. In this study, women who met all three of these recommendations had a slightly more than 60 percent reduced risk compared to women who met none of these three.

The AICR Recommendations for Cancer Prevention examined in this latest study came from AICR’s report and its continuous updates, which have concluded that women can reduce their risk of postmenopausal breast cancer by being physically active, staying a healthy weight, not drinking alcohol, and breastfeeding one’s child. AICR estimates that 38 percent of breast cancer cases in the US could be prevented by following these recommendations.

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.

Published on July 17, 2013

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